Blue collar, construction
(USA TODAY by Rebecca Lurye) Workers who keep the country running through transportation, construction and other services may also suffer the worst health, according to recent rankings of employees' well-being.
The research group Gallup and wellness company Healthways gathered information about employees' health and living through its 2011 Well-Being Index to gain a comprehensive picture of workers' health across occupation groups.
The survey, released last month, found that blue-collar workers topped the charts when it comes to many health concerns: About 37% of transportation workers and 30.7% of manufacturing and production employees are obese; smoking was prevalent among 33% in mining and construction and 29.3% in installation and repair work.
On average, blue-collar workers were more than 6 percentage points above the national smoking rate. Carter Coberley, director of Health Research and Outcomes at Healthways, says that by improving employees' health, companies will see less turnover and lower health care costs.
"The key for organizations is understanding the unique aspects of their own workforces' well-being and then the unique things they're going to have to do as an employer to address the needs of the population," he says.
Health care, illness and work environment also varied across the industries, the survey found. Nearly half of construction and mining workers had not visited a dentist in the past year, and 31.5% of transportation employees had high blood pressure, for example. Clerical, office and service workers reported some of the best health, but about 30% said they did not feel safe walking alone at night in their city.
Yet employee welfare has improved in the construction industry in the past decade, says Thomas Gerlach Jr. of Seattle, human resources senior vice president for Turner Construction Company. About 15% of Turner employees have completed a weight-loss program since the company launched an overall wellness initiative in 2009, he says.
"You have people walking around all the time saying, 'I lost 25 pounds and the company helped me do it,' " Gerlach says. "Long-term health depends on you taking care of yourself and us providing an environment where you can take care of yourself."
Still, more than a quarter of construction and mining workers were obese, and half reported they did not eat enough fruits and vegetables, the survey found.
Erika Sward, director of national advocacy for the American Lung Association, was not surprised that labor-intensive jobs topped the list for highest rates of smoking.
Those with less education are most likely to pick up smoking - and also least likely to have access to good stop-smoking treatments, she says.
"Every state must include a comprehensive quit-smoking benefit so that those who are most likely to smoke and least likely to be able to get the help they need will have that opportunity," she says.